Jonathan Unleashed

By: Meg Rosoff

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Jonathan came home from work one day to find the dogs talking about him.

They weren’t even his dogs.

‘Just a few months, six maximum? Don’t worry about changing your lifestyle,’ his brother pleaded. ‘Take them out before you go to work and when you get home again in the evening. They’re great dogs and won’t trash your place. Honest, you’ll love them.’

James (typically, it had to be said) had understated the nature of the task. He never once mentioned the Byzantine quality of his dogs’ inner lives, the practical and spiritual difficulties of caring for other sentient beings, the intense and constant scrutiny to which Jonathan was now subject.

Jonathan very much wanted the dogs to be happy but it was turning out not to be as simple as walks and bones.

Sissy padded up beside him and sat at his feet, looking yearningly into his face as if searching for the key to her future. She emitted a soft whine, a pleading noise that might have meant anything – I’m hungry, I need more love, we’re bored here all day, please turn over the reins to your life so we can sort you out.

Jonathan stared. The reins to his life? Did his life even have reins? And if it did, would it be wise to turn them over to a dog?

He pointed at her bed.

‘Lie down,’ he said. ‘And stop confounding me with impossible philosophical options.’ Her back was to him now, as was Dante’s, their heads together. Awww, he might once have thought. But now he squinted at them, anxious. Were they plotting to take over his life? And if so, how?

He had to admit it was nice being greeted with enthusiasm when he came home from a hard day at the advertising coalface. Long walks took the place of going to the gym and the dogs’ ability to sleep calmed him, took the edge off work. They were good-looking dogs, and people stopped him on the street to admire his fine taste in pets. At the beginning he’d demur, saying they belonged to his brother in Dubai, but after a while he just said, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Your dog is nice too,’ even when the other dog wasn’t, particularly.

But lately something had shifted in his relationship with them. He sensed they disapproved of his lifestyle.

Which was fair enough. He disapproved of it too.

Jonathan looked up and saw the critics at the door, waiting. Walk time. At least he had a park. Most dog owners in New York had to walk miles to find one, or hire someone to transport their dogs to Central Park. It was one of the deciding factors for James.

‘You have a dog run practically across the street! How lucky is that?’

How lucky was it, mused Jonathan, though it was way too late to move now. He turned up the collar of his jacket, trudged the three blocks to Tompkins Square Park in the rain, unclipped the leashes and off they ran, skipping for joy, sniffing other dogs and snaffling up bits of discarded food. Jonathan pressed himself up against a tree for cover.

He thought about work while the dogs played with their friends until he noticed that they’d stopped frolicking and were standing, staring at him damply. James always threw a ball for us, their expressions said. He played hide and seek and introduced us to other dogs.

Jonathan stared back at them. What? Now dogs needed introductions? Whatever happened to butt-sniffing? ‘Go sniff a butt,’ he said, waving in the direction of the teeming pack. ‘Make your own social life. Stand on your own four feet.’

An older man with a husky and a large blue golf umbrella turned to look at him. ‘You tell ’em,’ he said. ‘In my day we sniffed our own butts.’

The rain tapered off. Sissy trotted off towards a tea-cup version of a foreign dog who’d wandered in from the small-dog gulag. It was a fluffy gingery thing straight out of the Mattel factory. Next to the puffball, a Weimaraner with a long-suffering expression wore a padded rain-suit in pale pink and green paisley with matching boots and hood.

Why did people think dogs wanted to wear clothes? The Weimaraner’s owner glared at him and he wondered if he’d been thinking out loud again.

‘Nice dog,’ he said with a smile, but the woman turned away.

He caught Sissy’s eye. What kind of life was this for a dog? Maybe his dogs hated New York City, with its emphasis on labels, money and grooming. Maybe they wished they lived on a farm, where they could run and play and be useful. But surely the dogs and cats and rats and squirrels and birds and humans in New York all adjusted to life well enough? They walked the streets, they ate great food, they were fine, Jonathan thought. Weren’t they? His own life wasn’t bad. Not long out of art school, a junior copywriter at Comrade, his own apartment and a not-unimpressive girlfriend by the name of Julie Cormorant. The dogs should admire him.

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